Tag Archives: Competition

Judgement

I started brewing in 1997 and man has the beer landscape changed in 17 years.  Craft beer was around but you had to seek it out – you’d be very lucky to even find a Sam Adams at your local chain restaurant.  Finding respectable samples of many styles was tough – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was around but the IPA craze had not hit.  Belgians were a rare breed.  If a home brewer chose to make one of these rare styles, then finding a good quality sample of a classic style was not easy.  That made me seek out information about beer judging and due to the internet the Beer Judge Certification Program was a quick find.  It intrigued me.  So much to learn about styles and brewing methods. I knew I wanted to try and become a judge.

It took awhile, but eventually I found my was to an exam and four years ago this January I took the BJCP exam, and even better I passed it. It was a tough test, 3 solid hours of writing and some beer tasting. And today I am a Certified Beer Judge.

But when I look back on why I originally sought out judging information, it was self-doubt.  I made these beers – but were they flawed?  I read about all of these off flavors – diacetyl, oxidation, acetone.  Were they in my beer? Was I missing something?  Well today I worry much less about such things.  I have a little experience and know what I like – and I make beer to drink what I like.  But judging others’ beers is a different thing.  Not only are you charged with finding flaws, you are charged with picking out the best beers.

The reason I mention this is Robert Hodgson. He happens to be a winemaker and a statistician. And he noticed something about the wines he entered into competitions.  Sometimes a particular wine would do very well, other times it would be judged poorly.  So he proposed an experiment to the California State Fair competition in 2005, and he repeated for eight years.  And what he discovered is that wine judges are pretty inconsistent at what they do.  His bottom line: if a wine wins an award it most probably by chance, not merit.

Hodgson was interviewed on the Science for the People podcast. Check it out.  The same episode includes a great interview with Charlie Bamforth, the professor of brewing at Cal-Davis.  If you have never heard Charlie talk beer you are missing a treat.

So science says that my ability to consistently discern the flavor characteristics of a particular beer is quite low.  I can live with that.  I just hope all the brewers whose beers I have judged can live with it too.

A Serious Hiatus & NHC Round 1

Is what I fell into.

Blogging consistently is tough, my hat is off to those who manage it.  It is funny that once you fall behind it is so much tougher to start again.  But yet I shall.

I have some personal brewing news I will cover, but first I wanted to share some highlights of the recent beer judging I conducted.  The Pittsburgh area hosted a first round judging for the National Homebrew Competition.  This competition is open to anyone who wants to enter their homebrew.  I personally have not entered a beer into this competition.  It is a tough competition, and at $10 per entry it is not inexpensive.  Still, if you think you can brew with the big boys, this is the place to show it.

I judged a total of three categories: Specialty, German Wheat Beers, and IPAs.  Frankly the last two categories were very disappointing.  The wheat beer category was full of decent but uninspiring beers.  The hallmark of the German hefeweizen is the banana and clove flavors created by the yeast.  The beers we tried had varying amounts, but all were too tame.  This is a tough category because the flavor profile of a wheat beer fades fast, and maybe I was a bit harsh in my judging.  Still I was hoping one beer would sweep me away; alas, none did.

The IPAs followed a similar path.  Outside of the acetone bomb someone dropped in the middle of the flight, the beers were decent but lacked the punch of hop flavor and aroma one expects from an IPA. The American IPAs suffered the most, in fact there were only two English IPAs in our flight.  I judged one of those to be the best I tasted.  It was brewed impeccably, with no off flavors.  If it had just had a bit more punch in both the hops and body, it would have won.  It was just more ESB-like than IPA-like.  In the end I still thought it deserved to win over the American IPAs it was matched against, but my fellow judges thought differently.

The Specialty category was fun.  I like to judge this category because I think it is one of the more openly objective categories.  In categories like IPAs, you often end up with two or three similar beers and the winning choice is somewhat subjective.  In the case of specialty beers the brewer must name what they have done to make the beer special, and you must judge how well they pulled it off.  By my reckoning the best beer in this category was a beer with onions, garlic, oregano, and brown sugar.  Yes you heard that correctly.  All of the fellow judges snickered as we opened the bottle.  But you know, the brewer pulled it off.  That beer was like drinking a pizza.  The onion and garlic flavors were apparent and well balanced.  The oregano was subtle and the brown sugar I could not find.  That hurt the beer in the competition.  If you name an ingredient you better be sure the judges can taste it or else you have failed.  In the end this beer did not win gold in its category, but I salute the brewer who made it.